Aside from musical instruments, the bicycle is mankind’s greatest invention – because it cannot be used for harm.
Last weekend a local bike shop, Stage 2 Cyclery, hosted the Tour de Murrieta, which went round and around my neighborhood in the old part of town for three days.
I cannot explain why I love bike racing, unless it’s the beauty of the machine itself. That’s not the whole story, of course.
Lance Armstrong wrote that a boy’s first feeling of freedom may come from a bicycle – and that’s surely true. I remember a few moments from my childhood when I was on a bike – pedaling home from the last day of school, riding past This One Girl’s house and waving – and those memories will stay with me, I hope, until my last lap.
Bicycle racing will always be a minor sport in the United States. Except for Lance – about whom the less said the better – it has not, and probably never will, generate the enormous paydays that a few other sports do.
I’m old enough to remember the days when baseball, football and basketball players sold cars in the off-season, because they needed the money. Then in a weird sort of cycle that pretty much defines the modern United States, the popularity of the sports led to giant salaries for its stars, and now we’ve reached the point that the giant salaries feed the popularity of the sports.
Not pro cycling, though, which, admittedly, is probably one reason I like it: the feeling of belonging to a club that most people don’t even want to belong to. Or know exists.
I love those sleek machines, with their Space Age tires, the whoosh of the pelotón as it flies by. I even liked standing around for eight minutes waiting for the peloton to come by again, at 30 mph.
I can do 30 mph pretty consistently, downhill, if the hill is steep enough. But I don’t know of any 56-mile downhills in my neck of the woods, and that’s how long the road race was on the last day of the Tour.
I stood next to another bike fanatic, who told me he rode his bicycle 220-and-some miles one day, just to see how far he could go. On another day he ran 40 miles, for the same reason. He’s a nut, like me. I ran 56 miles one day. The longest I’ve pedaled in one day is about 115 miles. Just because.
Pro bicycling has received brutal treatment in the press for more than a decade because of doping, though if you look closely at the sidelines, you can see trainers injecting drugs into injured football players before their coach sends them back into the games. Basketball players they take into the locker room for their drugs, then send them back out. Baseball players have taken drugs since forever.
But no professional athlete ever was made by drugs. You and I could take all the drugs in the world and never be able to hit a Major League fastball, or play a minute in the NBA, or hang off the back of the pelotón as it whooshes up the Alps. Or around the neighborhood.
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